ARPA instructions unclear for IT uses, CIOs say

Two state chief information officers recently outlined to StateScoop their plans for statewide technology upgrades as they await American Rescue Plan funding, but both said they’ll also exercise caution because the federal government hasn’t made the allowable uses entirely clear.

Iowa CIO Annette Dunn said that even though this round of relief funding is meant to be more flexible, she’s still sometimes hesitating when making plans for new IT projects.

“You’re always a little gun-shy when you get federal money and they say it’s less restrictive, and then you start allocating and spending the money, and then maybe they change their mind and come out with additional clarification,” Dunn said on StateScoop’s Priorities podcast. “So that is always a challenge, especially when things are moving so dynamically.”

Iowa’s Department of Human Services used CARES Act funding to pay for statewide enterprise resource planning upgrade, but the state auditor objected and eventually forced the department to pay for the project with state funds. Dunn said she still disagrees with the auditor’s decision, but that it primed her thinking for the upcoming funding rounds.

Utah CIO Alan Fuller said he’s been studying the allowable uses of ARPA funding, as defined by the Department of Treasury, but having difficulty. 

“The rules are not entirely clear, and that’s what makes it difficult because there are several places where it does specifically refer to things like technology infrastructure but then could you just go take on a big ERP project and fund it? Well, the answer is maybe,” Fuller said.

Utah’s IT projects in the first round of funding include network improvements, cybersecurity improvements, a data center move and new funding for IT modernization in the health department, Fuller said. He said he also plans to apply for additional funding in upcoming rounds to pay for data analytics projects and a cloud-based data warehouse and reporting tool.

“It’s wonderful that there’s some funding there to try to improve infrastructure and address some of these other social needs that came up, but at the same time, when you get down to the practical details, it can be kind of difficult to see exactly where projects could fall under the allowable use cases,” he said.

Government leaders have expressed other concerns, as well, said Megan Atchley, director of health and human services at Adobe Public Sector.

“I have heard from many leaders who are worried about the one-time nature of this funding,” Atchley said. “It’s imperative that they make investments in technology that are sustainable now and into the future.”

On this episode:

  • Annette Dunn, CIO of Iowa
  • Alan Fuller, CIO of Utah
  • Colin Wood, managing editor of StateScoop
  • Jake Williams, vice president of content and community for StateScoop and EdScoop
  • Megan Atchley, director of health and human services at Adobe Public Sector

This episode of Priorities is brought to you by Adobe.

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